Johannesburg - As a convenience factor, it’s hard to beat. You want it, you order it online or on the phone and in a very few minutes a despatch rider on a scooter or a small motorcycle delivers it to your door. Cool.
But what is that rider wearing as he weaves through the traffic to bring you your cough mixture or Chinese takeaway? All too often, a poorly fitting helmet and a wholly inappropriate branded jacket that’s going to be about as much protection as a wet tissue if he comes off.
Make that when he comes off. Just to earn a living, despatch riders cover distances that make mainstream bikers look like amateurs, in any and all weathers, on machines with, at best, marginal power, primitive suspension and inadequate lighting.
The law of averages works against them; for every delivery rider that crashes through inexperience or mechanical failure due to a poorly maintained machine, or slides on a diesel spill, another gets knocked down by a car. And while they’re off the road, they’re not earning.
One group of riders, however, has decided to do something about it.
The Sons of Joburg is a mainstream motorcycle club whose members became concerned at the lack of protection provided by employers of delivery riders.
They soon discovered that providing Personal Protective Equipment appropriate to the job the employee is doing is a legal requirement - but that the law simply isn’t being enforced. Attitudes would have to change, they realised, at government level, at employer level and among the riders themselves.
So they started a social media campaign under the slogan 'No Livery, No Delivery' to raise public awareness and put pressure on employers to provide proper kit for delivery riders.
But many delivery riders are contractors, with their own machines. Their employers hide behind a grey area in the legislation under which contractors provide their own tools of the trade. Whether this gets employers off the hook in terms of Personal Protection Equipment has yet to be tested in court.
For now, however, part-time or contract delivery riders have to provide their own gear, and few, if any, can afford it. They are also often woefully ignorant of the most basic maintenance requirements, such as lubricating and tensioning drive chains and the fact that there is no such thing as a motorcycle tyre that doesn’t leak.
'No Livery, No Delivery'
It’s a multifaceted problem, they soon realised, centred on the abuse of delivery riders (and flouting of health and safety legislation) by business owners, the ignorance of of the public and the disregard of safety by riders.
So the club has set up a 'No Livery, No Delivery' facebook page; through this channel bikers and members of the public have begun donating used but still roadworthy biking gear. Since February 2017 more than 80 helmets, about 20 jackets and a similar number of gloves, boots and reflective vests have been distributed to delivery riders in need.
Companies with full-time employees are being approached to inform them that they are contravening the law by not providing appropriate safety gear. The club intends to name and shame non-compliant employers through social media, while publicising companies and individuals that kit out their riders appropriately.
Education is key, says Sons of Joburg vice-president Mike Lacey-Smith, both of employers and riders, in the importance of protective gear and machine maintenance.
The immediate goal of the campaign is nationwide awareness and participation in this process; longer-term goals include establishing a network of suppliers who will assist delivery riders to purchase appropriate safety gear - not expensive branded clothing that looks good while offering little or no protection but affordable, robust protective equipment - ideally through a dedicated credit system.
Employers are to be encouraged to take out motorcycle-specific emergency medical cover for their riders - most do not have medical aid and have to rely on the public health system - and channels sought to effect changes in legislation for this sector.
All the Gear, All the Time
Bikers often quote a safety acronym, ATGATT - All The Gear, All The Time. You don’t even go down to the corner cafe for milk, they insist, without the bare minimum of protective gear. That includes a properly fitting crash helmet with a clear visor that can open and close, a bike-specific jacket with CE armour padding, bike-specific gloves and work-boots that cover and protect your ankles.
Yet how many service providers kit their riders out with that bare minimum of Personal Protective Equipment? (the Occupational Health and Safety Act that makes it a legal requirement for every employer to do so considers it important enough to initial it with capitals). It’s too expensive, they say; the riders lose the kit and ride without it. Or they complain that they spend a fortune kitting out a rider and a week later he quits, taking the kit with him.
All of which is true, say Sons of Joburg, but can be addressed by storing the protective gear in lockers at the employer’s premises when it’s not in use and issuing it to the rider at the start of each shift. Yes it’s a bit more admin, but it will ensure that (a) the rider is wearing his or her protective gear and (b) the gear is in good condition, especially that the gloves have no holes, the helmet visor is clear and secure and the helmet is securely fastened on the rider’s head - none of which is rocket science.
Then there’s the bikes or scooters they ride; all too often even those owned by the employer, which are clearly his responsibility in terms of maintenance and repairs, are sent out in an unroadworthy condition with worn tyres, loose chains, broken mirrors and levers (these two are almost universal, says Lacey-Smith) and non-functioning brakes.
“Each delivery rider represents your brand,” he said. “If he pitches up at a customer’s place without proper kit on a beat-up, obviously unroadworthy two-wheeler like an accident looking for somewhere to happen, what does that say about your company?”
If you can help in your area, get in touch with Sons of Joburg through their Facebook page or contact Mike Lacey-Smith on 082 567 2543.